Government

Cars parked on the corner of Starlit Drive and Norwood Road near the Del Vino Vineyard. Photo provided by Sara Williams

Scores of Huntington residents attended the town’s September 17 board meeting to complain about Del Vino Vineyards, a Northport-based vineyard and winery. Homeowners say customers are parking on neighborhood streets, causing traffic congestion and safety concerns in the surrounding area after the vineyard parking lot fills up.

Earlier last month, the town board proposed changes to traffic code and creating “no parking” zones in the vicinity, but the vineyard’s attorney is challenging the idea.

Anthony Guardino, a Hauppauge-based attorney and representative for the vineyard’s owner Frederick Giachetti, said at the meeting that the proposed regulations violate New York State agriculture and markets laws.

“[The area] It has been designated as an agriculture district from the state,” he said. “…And the law prohibits governments from enacting laws that restrict or affect operations, unless there is a public health or safety concern.”

The attorney called the restrictions unreasonable and said it would be only fair to adopt a resolution that bans all parking on those streets regardless of the time. He also pointed out how soccer games on the weekends and school events contribute to the traffic congestion.

“We are operating within the confines of law we didn’t create it, it already exists,” Guardino said. “If the board wants to be fair, treat everyone the same.”

Mark Cuthbertson, Huntington Councilman, took exception to Guardino’s remarks.

“It is a real conundrum for us, because they have used an exemption…it put us in a really difficult situation because some of the normal land use tools that we could use were not available to us,” he said. “And now we have a situation where basically the vineyard’s parking lot is the surrounding neighborhood.”

Norwood Road during the vineyard’s hours of operation. Photo provided by Sara Williams

Cutherbertson said the spillover effect from parking in the neighborhood has been tremendous.

“Soccer teams don’t present the quality of life issues that the patrons of Del Vino pose.” he said.

Matthew Karpoich, a homeowner on Starlit Drive, said he doesn’t think the proposed regulations will solve the parking issue and only push the burden back further to other neighboring streets.

“The core issue is that vineyard is not providing ample parking,” he said. “This is not a case of going from 50 percent capacity to 100 percent. When the vineyard is not open there are zero cars on our block and little traffic. We go from zero to 100 percent capacity,  bumper to bumper parking on our streets, when it is open.”

The Northport resident mentioned he bought his home so that his kids could ride their bikes and enjoy the quiet neighborhood. But said the presence of the vineyard has ruined that.

“The area has become the private parking lot for Del Vino,” Karpoich said.

Neighborhood residents voiced a range of safety and public health concerns related to the parking issue.

Those concerns included the possibility of drunken drivers, passed out patrons on lawns and public urinating. The business, residents said, has also resulted in steady traffic of Uber and Lyft vehicles on the local streets.

Roy Kennis, who bought his house nearly thirty years ago, said the quiet neighborhood he once knew is a thing of the past.

“Whenever Del Vino has an event the streets become a grand central station of cars, SUVs and pick-up trucks hustling to a parking spot on both sides of the street,” he said. “…They are unknown commodities only coming here for a few drinks.”

Lynn Ruder said the excessive parking have made many roads a one-way street.

“This a recipe for disaster, it is only a matter of time before there is a car accident or worse,” she said. “I urge you [the town board] to install no parking signs as soon as possible, as this is the one thing you have jurisdiction over.”

The vineyard has been a thorn in the side of many residents since site plans were first introduced in 2015. Some pointed out that similar businesses, like Harmony Vineyard in Head of the Harbor, have regulated that street parking is not permitted anywhere and it can only serve the number of customers that its parking lot can accommodate.

The next town board meeting is scheduled for Oct. 16 at 2 p.m.

 

By Heidi Sutton

The U.S. Postal Service celebrated the 32nd honoree in the Literary Arts stamp series, Walt Whitman (1819-1892), with a first day of issue stamp dedication and unveiling ceremony on Sept. 12.

The event was held at a most fitting venue, The Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site’s Interpretive Center in Huntington Station, which boasts the second largest Whitman collection in the world, only superceded by the Library of Congress. The farmhouse where Whitman was born sits on the property.

Thursday’s unveiling honored the 200th anniversary of the Long Island native’s birth.

Influenced by the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Whitman wrote over 400 poems including “Song of Myself,” “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” “I Sing the Body Electric,” and his 1855 masterpiece “Leaves of Grass.” 

In addition to avid stamp collectors, the event was attended by many elected officials including Assemblyman Andrew Raia, Sen. James Gaughran, Legislator Susan Berland, Supervisor Chad Lupinacci, Legislator Tom Donnelly, Councilman Mark Cuthbertson along with Executive Director of the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum Lance Reinheimer, Huntington historian Robert C. Hughes, Executive Director of Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park Vincent A. Simeone, Deputy Regional Director of NYS Parks Brian X. Foley, Regional Director of NYS Parks George “Chip” Gorman and many employees of the U.S. Postal Service.

Michael Gargiulo, WNBC co-anchor of “Today in New York” served as master of ceremonies. “I’m a huge history fan, I’m a huge stamp fan and I’m thrilled to be here,” he said before introducing Cynthia L. Shor, executive director of the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association; Jeffrey S. Gould, who sits on the board of trustees of the association; and Erik Kulleseid, commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for welcoming remarks.

The official stamp dedication was led by Cara M. Greene, vice president and controller of the U.S. Postal Service, and Walt Whitman personator Darrel Blaine Ford treated the audience to a soul-stirring reading of “Song of the Open Road.”

“Walt Whitman’s message of equality, tolerance, and the idea that we are all of the natural world, not separate from it, drew international acclaim in the 19th century and rings just as true today,” said Kulleseid, who thanked Shor and the board of directors “for all you’ve done since the 1950s to preserve this site and to educate visitors about Whitman’s vision of what it truly means to be an American.”

“[Whitman] is considered by many as the father of modern American poetry. The key word here is modern because of the topics and themes he explored — freedom, human dignity and democracy — and his stylistic innovations that at times mimicked ordinary speech and the long cadences of biblical poetry. His work continues to resonate with us today,” said Greene before unveiling the 85-cent commemorative stamp, which is intended for domestic First-Class Mail weighing up to 3 ounces.

Designed by Greg Breeding, the stamp features a portrait of Whitman painted by Brooklyn artist Sam Weber based on a photograph of the poet taken by Frank Pearsall in 1869. It depicts Whitman in his 50s, with long white hair and a beard gazing out with his chin resting in his left hand. The light purple background with a hermit thrush siting on the branch of a lilac tree recalls “When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d,” an elegy for President Abraham Lincoln written by Whitman soon after Lincoln‘s assassination on April 14, 1865. It appeared in the second edition of “Drum Taps,” a collection of poems mostly written during the Civil War.

“Why do we honor Walt Whitman? He has had a tremendous influence on poetry, he relaxed the poetic line, dispensing with rhyme and meter and opening the way to what we call ‘free verse.’ He was really the great poet of American democracy — his poems embraced people of all religions and races and social classes,” at a time of great nativism, said David S. Reynolds, author of “Walt Whitman’s America: A Cultural Biography.”

Although he witnessed much suffering during the Civil War and endured several strokes, Reynolds said Whitman “never surrendered his optimism … His poetry radiates this joyful spirit. It brims with his love of the beauty and miracles of everyday life … and lifts our spirits.”

The use of Narcan is demonstrated on a dummy during a training class. File photo by Elana Glowatz

At Stony Brook University Renaissance School of Medicine, a new generation of doctors and dentists are involved in a novel approach to managing the opioid epidemic. The training includes instruction from reformed narcotic users, who act as teachers.

A 25-year-old woman recently explained to the first-year students how she became addicted to opioids at the age of 15, when a friend came over with Vicodin prescribed by a dentist after a tooth extraction.

Addiction, she said, is like having a deep itch inside that desperately needs to be scratched.

“There was nothing that could stand between me and getting high,” said the young woman, who wants to remain anonymous. “Most of the time it was my only goal for the day. At $40 a pill, I quickly switched to heroin which costs $10.” 

The university’s Assistant Dean for Clinical Education Dr. Lisa Strano-Paul, who helped coordinate the session, said that “patients as teachers” is widely practiced in medical education. This is the first year reformed narcotic users are participating in the program.

“People’s stories will stick with these medical students for the rest of their lives,” she said. “Seeing such an articulate woman describe her experiences was impactful.”

Gerard Fischer, a doctor of dental surgery candidate from St. James, took part in the patient-as-teacher session on narcotics.

“You learn empathy, a quality people want to see in someone practicing medicine,“ Fischer said. “People don’t choose to become addicted to narcotics. So, you want to understand.”

After working in dental offices over the last several years, he’s noticed that habits for prescribing painkillers are changing.

“Dental pain is notoriously uncomfortable because it’s in your face and head,” he said. “No one wants a patient to suffer.” Pain management, though, requires walking a fine line, he added, saying, “Patient awareness is increasing, so many of them now prefer to take ibuprofen and acetaminophen rather than a prescription narcotic, which could be a reasonable approach.”

Hearing the young woman tell her story, he said, will undoubtedly influence his decision-making when he becomes a practicing dentist. 

An estimated 180 medical and dental students attended the training last month. Overall, Strano-Paul said she’s getting positive feedback from the medical students about the session. 

The woman who overcame addiction and shared her insights with the medical professionals, also found the experience rewarding. 

We respect her request to remain anonymous and are grateful that she has decided to share her story with TBR News Media. For the rest of this article, we shall refer to her as “Claire.” 

Faith, hope and charity

“I told the doctors that recovery has nothing to do with science,” Claire said. “They just looked at me.”

Claire was addicted to drugs and alcohol for seven years and went to rehab 10 times over the course of five years. 

“I did some crazy things, I jumped out of a car while it was moving,” Claire said, shaking her head in profound disbelief.

She leapt from the vehicle, she said, the moment she learned that her family was on their way to a rehab facility. Fortunately, she was unharmed and has now been off pain pills and drugs for close to six years. She no longer drinks alcohol.

“Yes, it is possible to recover from addiction,” Claire said. 

People with addiction issues feel empty inside, Claire explained, while gently planting her fist in her sternum. She said that once her counselor convinced her to pray for help and guidance, she was able to recover.

“Somehow praying opens you up,” she said. 

Claire was raised Catholic and attended Catholic high school but says that she’s not a religious person. 

“I said to my counselor, “How do I pray, if I don’t believe or know if there’s a God?” 

She came to terms with her spirituality by appreciating the awe of nature. She now prays regularly. Recovery, she said, is miraculous.

Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-step regimen, first published in 1939 in the post-Depression era, outlines coping strategies for better managing life. Claire swears by the “big book,” as it’s commonly called. She carefully read the first 165 pages with a counselor and has highlighted passages that taught her how to overcome addictions to opioids and alcohol. Being honest, foregoing selfishness, praying regularly and finding ways to help others have become reliable sources of her strength.

Spirituality is the common thread Claire finds among the many people she now knows who have recovered from addiction.

The traditional methods of Alcohol Anonymous are helping people overcome addiction to opioids.

Medication-assisted therapy

Personally, Claire recommends abstinence over treating addiction medically with prescription drugs such as buprenorphine. The drug, approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration since 2002, is a slow-release opioid that suppresses symptoms of withdrawal. When combined with behavior therapy, the federal government recommends it as treatment for addiction. Medication alone, though, is not viewed as sufficient. The ultimate goal of medication-assisted therapy, as described on the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website on the topic, is a holistic approach to full recovery, which includes the ability to live a self-directed life.

“Medication-assisted therapy should not be discounted,” Strano-Paul said. “It improves the outcome and enables people to hold jobs and addresses criminal behavior tendencies.”

While the assistant dean is not involved with that aspect of the curriculum, the topic is covered somewhat in the clerkship phase of medical education during sessions on pain management and when medical students are involved in more advanced work in the medical training, she said. 

The field, though, is specialized.

The federal government requires additional certification before a medical practitioner can prescribe buprenorphine. Once certified, doctors and their medical offices are further restricted to initially prescribe the medicine to only 30 patients annually. Critics say no other medications have government-mandated patient limits on lifesaving treatment. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, considers the therapy to be “misunderstood” and “greatly underused.” 

In New York state, 111,391 medical practitioners are registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to prescribe opioids and narcotics. Only 6,908 New York practitioners to date are permitted to prescribe opioids for addiction treatment as at Aug. 31.

Strano-Paul for instance, pointed out that she can prescribe opioids, but is prohibited from prescribing the opioid-based drug used for addiction therapy. 

The narcotics education program is still evolving, Strano-Paul said. 

New medical student training now also includes certification for Narcan, the nasal spray antidote that revives opioid overdose victims. 

“It saves lives,” Strano-Paul said. 

In Suffolk County in 2017, 424 people died from an opioid overdose, which was 41 percent higher than the state average, according to a study titled “The Staggering Cost of Long Island’s Opioid Crisis.” The county is aware of 238 potentially lifesaving overdose reversals as of June 30 attributed to Narcan this year alone. Since 2012, Narcan has helped to save the lives of 3,864 people in the county. 

As for Claire, now a mother, she delivered her children through C-section. In the hospital, she was offered prescription opioids for pain. 

“No one will ever see me again, if you give me those pills,” she said.                

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Some residents and village officials object to a reduced recreation fee for private facilities at The Shipyard, here seen originally in construction. File photo by Alex Petroski

The Village of Port Jefferson has a lot of apartments on its plate, both those developments already settled into their foundations and those still in the hopper. 

So far, the experience for Port Jeff community members and officials alike has not left the greatest impressions.

Some points have become so contested that village officials voted to change the code to prevent similar experiences in the future.

The village held three public hearings Sept. 3 to propose changes to the village code. Two code changes were in direct response to complaints of the development of separate apartment complexes. One code change was for payment in lieu of parking and the other on what counts for reducing the recreational space fee owed to the village.

In the latter case, the village has moved to excise rooftop decks, patios and other common areas not accessible to the general public from being considered park or recreational facilities for the purposes of developers reducing the parkland fee paid to the village.

Mayor Margot Garant said the change has come after review of comments from the community, especially in regard to the fee paid by Tritec Real Estate Company, of which the mayor said is over $50,000, is still owed to the village.

“As we cannot enjoy the rooftop deck at Shipyard, we don’t think that should be taken into consideration when taking a calculation of the fee,” she said.

In August 2018, the village passed a resolution reducing the fee levied on Tritec for not including sufficient public green space, with the mayor arguing at the time the desire to have developers build amenities and green space for use by their tenants. At that time, Trustee Bruce Miller vehemently disagreed with the decision.

Just over a year since then, at the Sept. 3 meeting, Garant argued for a “bright line” code for the planning board to take into account in future developments, this time specifically pointing to the Tritec development for the code change.

Not all Port Jeff residents saw this as a complete victory. Michael Mart, a longtime Port Jefferson resident and regular watchdog, said he applauded the change, but argued the code as it previously stood could have been interpreted to prevent developments like Shipyard from getting recreation fees lowered for private amenities. 

“The planning board members shouldn’t make the difference because the code governs what the planning board does,” Mart said.

Garant disagreed. 

“[The recreation fee] was meant to make sure the village was getting an appropriate recreation fee for the stress that it puts on our public amenities,” she said. “Not to subtract the private amenities. I don’t think the language is strong enough as it exists to make that a protocol.”

Barbara Sabatino, a member of the planning board, said it had been informed the facilities would not be off limits to nonresidents.

“At the time we made that decision we were informed by Tritec that those outside decks that have view of the harbor could be accessed by the public, that it wasn’t Tritec residents only,” she said.

Representatives of Tritec did not answer multiple phone calls for comment.

Mart said the onus should not be just on Tritec for “pulling the wool,” but on the village and planning boards for not enforcing their vision of the code. 

The mayor said the village is still owed the fee from The Shipyard, which she added they can only pursue after the developer files the deeds with the Suffolk County Clerk’s Office. 

“I can’t really say when those deeds are recorded, but as far as I’m concerned, I want my money,” she said.

Also discussed in the meeting was a change to the code on payment in lieu of parking, citing another apartment development in the space that Cappy’s Carpets once occupied.

In a March public meeting, attorney’s representing Brooks Partners LLC, a subsidiary of Port Jefferson-based Gitto Group, said the Cappy’s Carpets project, known as Brockport, would have to pay for four spaces in payment in lieu of parking. The project is set to have 78 spaces of parking for its residents and for those working in the retail stores set to be located under the new apartments. 

The New York State Department of Transportation recommended removing two on-street parking stalls along Main Street for safer access to the property on Main Street. This did not sit well with some community members who saw it as a loss of parking spots in a village desperate for more lot space.

Garant attended that March meeting and agreed with those who criticized the project for the loss.

“But for that project we would still have two on-street parking spaces,” she said.

Bruce D’Abramo, the only board member to vote “no” on this code change, said it was out of the developers’ hands, having been ordered through the state DOT.

“In the case we are talking about the applicant who had no choice in this matter, it was the DOT who removed two on-street parking spaces on a state road that the village has no real control over anyway,” he said.

Mart, again, asked why the planning board did not make it a condition of their approval of the building’s site plans to mandate paying for the loss of the on-street spots.

“The planning board had the opportunity to make it a condition on the approval,” he said.

Chris Bianco, an attorney working on behalf of the village alongside Village Attorney Brian Egan, said the planning board would be on shaky ground if it made that a condition under the current code.

Garant acknowledged the change in code could present legal trouble down the road.

“I know everybody’s hands are kinda tied,” she said. “Somebody can certainly challenge me on that and take me to court, but I would rather be on the upside of that than downside of that.”

 

DA displays material confiscated, "ghost" guns and heroin, during a recent bust.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D) and the Suffolk County Police Department announced Sept. 10 the indictment of a Sayville man in connection with an alleged operation to assemble “ghost guns,” which are untraceable by law enforcement, and the illegal possession of other weapons including machine guns, loaded handguns, high-capacity magazines and other ammunition and more than 800 bags of heroin. St. James resident, Leon Jantzer, was among three people indicted in the case. 

“This was a dangerous drug dealer assembling ghost weapons in a hotel room right here in Suffolk County,” Sini said. “Had it not been for the police officers’ vigilance, their keen investigative skills, and their bravery in entering that hotel room, there’s no doubt in my mind that these weapons would still be on the streets of Suffolk County.”

Christopher Swanson, 42, is charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree, a B felony; two counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, a C felony; 10 counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, a D felony; and attempted criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, an E felony.

“I would like to commend the efforts of the 5th Precinct police officers who, while on routine patrol, stopped to investigate a vehicle parked in a handicap parking spot without a permit, which ultimately led to the discovery of a cache of untraceable guns that are extremely dangerous and put everyone’s lives at risk,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said. “We are making great strides working together with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office to take guns and drugs off of our streets and we look forward to our continued partnership leading to more successes.”

At approximately 11:35 p.m. on Aug. 13, a police officer from the 5th precinct was on routine patrol when he observed a vehicle parked in a handicap parking spot without a permit at the Clarion Hotel, located at 3845 Veterans Memorial Highway in Ronkonkoma. The officer determined that the vehicle was a rental car that had been reported stolen after it was not returned to the rental company by Marcella Brako, 39, of Sayville.

Further investigation of the vehicle resulted in the recovery of mail addressed to Swanson. Fifth Precinct police officers determined that Swanson was staying in a room at the hotel and, after identifying themselves as police, were permitted to enter the room by Swanson. Swanson and Brako were inside the hotel room along with a third individual, Leon Jantzer, 42, of St. James.

Upon entering the room, police observed an assault rifle, two handguns, assorted high-capacity magazines and other ammunition and assorted gun parts, according to the DA’s report. One of the handguns was fully automatic, also known as a machine gun. Police also allegedly observed packaging materials consistent with drug sales, including glassine envelopes. A subsequent search warrant was obtained and resulted in the recovery of an additional quantity of ammunition, drug paraphernalia and more than 800 bags of heroin.

The firearms recovered had allegedly been purchased in parts and assembled by Swanson, resulting in their not being registered and not having serial numbers, otherwise known as ghost guns.

“It cannot be overstated how dangerous these ghost guns are, particularly when in the possession of a criminal,” Sini said. “These are homemade weapons built from parts purchased over the internet that are not registered with law enforcement and cannot be traced. They are designed to evade detection by law enforcement and are essentially made to be used in the commission of crimes.”

Swanson was arraigned on the indictment  by Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice William J. Condon. Bail was set at $250,000 cash or $500,000 bond. He is due back in court Oct. 8.

Brako was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substancee in the third degree, B felony, and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle in the third degree, an A misdemeanor.

Jantzer was found in possession of a quantity of heroin and was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree, a misdemeanor. Jantzer’s attorney Brooke Janssen Breen has no comment about her client and the case and would confirm no details.  

If convicted of the top count, Swanson faces a maximum sentence of up to 15 years in prison. 

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Interim SBU President Michael Bernstein meet with Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul to discuss energy effeciency improvements. Photo by David Luces

In an effort to fight climate change, Stony Brook University will receive $79 million in energy efficiency improvements and upgrades throughout the campus. 

New York State Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul was on hand at the school Aug. 19 to announce the planned upgrades in front of the university’s Center of Molecular Medicine. 

The improvements build upon the State University of New York’s Clean Energy Roadmap, a partnership between SUNY and state energy agencies that aims to accelerate progress toward the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030. 

The energy efficient upgrades will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28,000 tons a year, which is the equivalent of taking over 5,000 cars off the road. It will also save the university nearly $6 million in energy and maintenance costs annually. 

“As the largest single site employer on Long Island, Stony Brook University must remain committed to reducing our carbon footprint,” Interim President Michael Bernstein said. 

The improvements, which will be financed and implemented by the New York Power Authority, will include a number of energy-saving upgrades such as lighting, ventilation and building management upgrades at university buildings, including residence halls, science buildings and the hospital. 

“As the largest single site employer on Long Island, Stony Brook University must remain committed to reducing our carbon footprint.”

— Michael Bernstein

The planned upgrades continue the university’s effort to reduce its carbon footprint. NYPA and SUNY have already partnered to complete more than $50 million in energy efficiency improvements at Stony Brook. If all goes according to plan, expectations are for the removal of nearly 16,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere. 

Some of those projects included interior and exterior LED lighting upgrades, replacement of older HVAC equipment, pipe insulation and lab HVAC modernization. 

PSEG Long Island provided more than $500,000 in rebates to Stony Brook University for projects underway. 

“We have a moral responsibility to protect this Earth while it is in our hands,” said Hochul. “Forty percent of buildings owned by the state of New York are on SUNY campuses … If we are going to make an impact this is where we start.” 

SUNY and NYPA, together, have completed energy-saving projects at more than 600 SUNY facilities, reducing energy consumption by more than 6.2 megawatts, removing more than 48,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere, and saving $12.1 million annually, according to SUNY. The public college institution and power authority are currently partnering to implement energy-saving measures at more than 30 additional SUNY buildings. Once completed, they expect it will reduce SUNY’s energy consumption by an additional 1.6 megawatts.

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Congressman Lee Zeldin, left, meets with constituents at the Setauket Fire Department on Main Street. Photo from Lee Zeldin’s office

Residents of New York’s 1st Congressional District took time out of their busy schedules Aug. 20 to sit down with their congressman to discuss what’s on their minds.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) held mobile office hours from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Setauket Fire Department on Main Street Tuesday. Constituents were invited to sit down, either one-on-one or in groups, with Zeldin or one of his staff members.

Congressman Lee Zeldin, left, meets with constituents at the Setauket Fire Department on Main Street. Photo from Lee Zeldin’s office

While many declined to discuss their specific questions, other residents waiting to speak to Zeldin said they were prepared to bring up issues such as background checks when buying guns, how to curb easy accessibility to assault-style rifles, Medicare, providing for veterans, immigration, health care for preexisting conditions and mandated vaccinations. One attendee wanted to know whether or not Zeldin is in favor of slashing the payroll tax and, if so, what other methods would he suggest to fund Medicare and Social Security.

Among the 71 who attended, several parents had their children in tow to provide them an example of civic engagement.

Sarah, 13, daughter of former Setauket congressional candidate Dave Calone, said this was the first chance she had to speak to an elected official about an issue.

“I wanted to talk with him about gun control,” she said while waiting to get an opportunity to speak with Zeldin. “I wanted to ask him about what measures the government is taking to ensure students are safe in school and other places as well.”

Kathleen Thornton, of Stony Brook, was with her son Jack.

“I thought it was good for him to get a sense of how government works,” the mother said.

The Stony Brook resident wanted to talk to Zeldin about the Excelsior Scholarship Program in New York and the income cutoff. She said the Excelsior funds also were not released until the initial payments to State University of New York schools were due, adding she only discovered issues with the scholarship program while helping her niece with her financial aid forms. While waiting to meet with the congressman, she said she hoped that he would know the right people to connect with to address her issues with the program.

Barbara Kantz, of East Setauket, who waited around two hours to meet with Zeldin, said she came to him with advocacy issues related to the environment and was satisfied with the strategies Zeldin offered, including those she can use as a citizen. She said to him that she knows he is an environmentalist, and she wanted to know how, as a congressman, he translates that to action programs “when we’re living in a time when science is somewhat dismissed, and we have an EPA that actually doesn’t believe in some of the notions of what an EPA should do.”

Three Village resident George Henik, before his meeting with Zeldin, said he would like to get a time frame from him about specific indictments.

“Why is [former FBI Director James] Comey still walking around and writing books and not in prison?” he asked.

Henik said he believes many have used the Congress as their weapon of choice and that some politicians, such as U.S. Reps. Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler, both Democrats, are out of control.

His wife Susan Henik said she also had questions for the congressman including concerns about voter fraud, especially on the federal level.

The couple were optimistic about meeting with the congressman and felt they were addressing issues that people from both parties are concerned about, such as justice and voter fraud.

“These two questions that we have, or topics of discussions that we brought up, no one would want their election being tampered with, no one wants a coup of the president,” Susan Henik said.

According to a press release from Zeldin’s office, those interested in participating in a future meeting, including after work or during the weekend, can call 631-289-1097.

Employees from John’s Crazy Socks with members of Huntington town board

Huntington Councilwoman Joan Cergol, at the Aug. 6 Town of Huntington board meeting, gave special recognition to Melville-based online retailer John’s Crazy Socks, which was cited recently as a winner of a national accounting firm’s Entrepreneur of the Year awards.

The company was founded two years ago by Huntington residents Mark X. Cronin and his son, John, upon John’s graduation from high school. John had said he wanted to go into business with his father, and they settled on one capitalizing on John’s fondness for unusual socks.

Mark and John Cronin with Councilwoman Joan Cergol

From humble beginnings, the firm has grown into one that produced $5.5 million in revenue in its second year, selling 2,300 varieties of socks and receiving more than 20,000 online reviews. A hallmark of the company is its dedication to having a social impact. More than half of its workforce has differing abilities, including John, who has Down syndrome.  Through videos, social media, school tours, work group and speaking engagements, the Cronins demonstrate what persons with differing abilities can do.

The company also pledges 5 percent of its earnings to the Special Olympics and donates money from its Awareness and Charity sock lines to other charity partners, including more than $300,000 for the National Down Syndrome Society, the Autism Society of America and the Williams Syndrome Association, among other groups. Mark and John Cronin have spread their message of maximizing potential and social consciousness through speaking engagements across the United States, Canada and Mexico.

In June, the accounting firm Ernst & Young presented John’s Crazy Socks with one of its 2019 New York Region Entrepreneur of the Year awards, in the Mission Drive category. The awards recognize entrepreneurs and leaders of high-growth companies for innovation, financial performance and their impact on the world.

“Their workplace is absolutely amazing,” said Cergol, who visited it a few months ago. “John and Mark Cronin are truly inspirational as role models for successful business plans and corporate responsibility. We have known this for some time, and it is exciting to see that they are receiving national recognition for their work. I wish them even greater success in the future.”

Photos from Town of Huntington

Northport power plant. File photo

At the Long Island Power Authority’s July 24 board meeting, Larry Kelly, a trial attorney, described at a public comment session how LIPA in 2006 and 2007 instituted what he called “the largest tax fraud” he’s seen in his 35 years as a lawyer, according to Huntington Town councilman, Eugene Cook (R).

Cook has independently asked New York State’s Public Service Commission Chairman John Rhodes in a letter dated Aug. 6 to review and “forcibly address” the issues. 

According to Cook, Kelly alleged that LIPA used the tax system to extend tax exemptions and reductions to Caithness power plant, which was awarded a contract to build a new 350-megawatt power plant in Yaphank, and then used those low taxes to argue in court that National Grid’s four aging power plants on Long Island were overassessed.

“I also request the PSC review LIPA’s ‘unclean hands’ in the Northport filings, and the impact that should have on LIPA’s continued operations,” Cook’s four-page letter concluded. The letter was sent on a town letterhead, but was not signed by other town board members, the supervisor or the town attorney.  

Councilman Eugene Cook

The term “unclean hands” is a legal defense which essentially references a legal doctrine that states a plaintiff is unable to pursue tax equity through the courts if the plaintiff has acted unethically in relation to the subject of its complaint. 

The allegations are surfacing just weeks after closing arguments were presented July 30 in LIPA’s tax certiorari case with the Town of Huntington for the year 2014. It is unclear how the allegation could potentially impact the outcome of the case as post-trial deliberations continue. The unclean hands defense was not part of the town’s defense, according to the Town Attorney Nick Ciappetta, who offered no public comment on the allegations.  

Kelly, a Bayport resident who ran for a New York State Supreme Court judgeship in the 2018 election, is unaffiliated with Huntington’s case, but said his obligation as a trial lawyer is to act as a steward of the law. 

LIPA did not respond to email requests for comment on the public allegations. 

A LIPA press release dated Jan. 25, 2006, stated that the Caithness plant in Yaphank would include a $139 million payment in lieu of taxes agreement with $100 million over 20 years going to Bellport’s South Country school district. 

LIPA’s 2019 Property Tax Reduction pamphlet, which is publicly available and published on its website, highlights the value of Caithness plant in contrast to the Port Jefferson, Northport and three other plants. On page 14 of the report, LIPA stated that in 2016 Caithness paid $9.7 million annually in taxes, while the Northport plant paid “eight times” as much in taxes, or $81 million, and Port Jefferson paid “three times” as much in taxes, or $33 million.  

The report also stated on page 14 that LIPA reimburses National Grid under its contract more than it earns in power revenue, a sum that factors in property taxes. 

“Those losses, the amount by which costs exceed the value of power, are paid by all 1.1 million electric customers,” the report said. It indicated that LIPA’s goal for filing tax challenges in 2010 against Nassau County, the Town of Huntington, the Town of Brookhaven and the Village of Port Jefferson “in an attempt to obtain a fair tax assessment on the four legacy plants.” 

In a telephone interview, Kelly referred to a Feb. 15, 2012 meeting with the Town of Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency, which recorded a Caithness representative explaining that “LIPA pays the PILOT to Caithness who then makes the PILOT payment to the IDA, and then they get a check back from New York State which is then returned to LIPA.” 

The minutes further stated, “This is the only power plant on Long Island that the ratepayers are not paying any real property taxes net out of pocket for the first 10 years, resulting in a saving of $80 million.” 

Kelly and Cook, in presenting the allegations publicly and to the commission, claimed that Bellport’s school district, South Country, which Cook said in his letter is comprised of 40 percent minority populations, were shortchanged tax revenue that could have funded school programs. Representatives from the South Country school district did not respond to email and telephone inquiries about their tax revenue from Caithness. 

The Public Service Commission has said that it has received and is reviewing the letter from Cook. It offered no other response to questions related to its potential response.

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By Nancy Marr

In July 2015, New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman made permanent the Commission to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services in New York. To measure the impact of the justice gap on vulnerable litigants and others, a task force had been created in 2010 to assess the extent and nature of the state’s civil legal services crisis. 

It held public hearings with civil legal providers, law firms, law schools and other stakeholders statewide and determined that the chronic lack of  free and low-cost legal assistance has led to a crisis in the courts, reflected by the ever-rising number of unrepresented litigants in these cases whose incomes are too low to pay for legal representation (a low-income family of four in New York State earns about 125 percent of the poverty level of $25,750).   

The mission of the commission is to ensure access to justice for all by using every resource, including self-help services, pro bono programs, technological tools and adequate funding (now $100 million of dedicated state funds annually for civil legal services throughout New York State). In order to add more pro bono attorneys, the commission amended the Rules of Professional Conduct to recommend an increase of annual pro bono hours for lawyers and for law school graduates seeking admission to the New York State bar from 10 to 50.   

The commission sought a site for a local pilot in which a strategic action plan could be developed; its goal would be providing effective assistance to all the persons in need and its success could then inform similar efforts in communities statewide. 

Looking at Suffolk County it found significant assets: a supportive judiciary, engaged providers, an active bar association and an involved law school that provides a variety of legal clinics for residents and trainings for legal service providers are significant assets. 

Suffolk’s challenges include its geography, the highest number of veterans in the state, a high percentage of homeless persons and many unaccompanied minors. A substantial  percentage of the population speaks a language other than English at home. 

Because the needs of many community members were still unmet, Suffolk was selected as a pilot. The gaps in legal services in Suffolk County are largest in three areas: family law, immigration and re-entry of veterans and formerly incarcerated individuals. Housing and health care also loom high in need for legal help. 

With funding from the Public Welfare Association, under the leadership of Administrative Judge C. Randall Hinrichs, Suffolk County launched its program with the Suffolk Planning Group, including civil legal aid providers, the judiciary, the Suffolk County Bar and Touro Law Center. Prior to starting the program, they held listening sessions, attended by 70 of the community organizations that are points of entry for people seeking help. 

Despite the number of service providers, many recognized that they were unfamiliar with each other’s services and that gaps exist that present opportunities for community integration and resource awareness. Training will be provided for these organizations and nonlawyer volunteers on how to make effective referrals. Recognizing the importance of talking to people in their own language, and at their level, these organizations can provide assistance to people in need that can prevent the escalation of issues into court matters. 

To publicize the legal resources that exist in Suffolk, and make it easier to navigate the system, the Suffolk Planning Group is soon to launch a website that would include offerings of the many legal service providers and advocacy groups. The two centers for help are Brentwood Public Library, 34 Second Ave., Brentwood, and Middle Country Public Library, 575 Middle Country Road, Selden. Suffolk residents may call 631-822-3272 for appointments with attorneys who provide advice in areas of law to persons in need. Informational materials are available at the centers, as well as training videos. 

The intersections between individuals and the civil justice system are complex. As we begin to break down barriers, we can enable everyone to access the information and effective assistance they need, and in a form they can use. With an integrated system where communities are empowered; courts participate and support access to justice initiatives; and legal service providers are dedicated to serving those in need, the provision of effective assistance will help people improve their lives. 

To view copies of the Community Legal Help Project information flyers in English and in Spanish, visit http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org/TakeAction.html.

Nancy Marr is first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.